Mellow Mummy: May 2015 : Taking life as it comes...

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Leapfrog Cinderella Leapreader Book Review

Holly has really developed an interest in book, reading and exploring words.  I'm amazed at how, having just turned three, Holly has already grasped that the words on the page are there to be read...the fact that she can't read them yet doesn't seem to bother her! This is a big step in a child's reading journey and its one that should be encouraged and celebrated!  It is how I knew that Holly was ready to move on up to the big girl's Leapfrog Leapreader to start exploring the Leapfrog Early Readers range of interactive books.

I think I introduced Lara to the Leapreader a little too late in life - she had already started reading simple sentences but didn't often see the Leapfrog books as a reading opportunity, more of a play opportunity. She still does.  That said, the games always have a good learning foundation such as word play or story comprehension and Cinderella, The Heart That Believes is no different.

But for Holly I am keen that the Leapreader books are the start of a reading journey and so far she has seemed very interested in using the tip of the pen to point at the words as they are read back to her.  Holly has a very short attention span so she tends to flick quickly from one page element to the next so it is a good job that the sentences are short and simple; this also makes them ideal for first readers as it makes the sentences seem less daunting.

The girls haven't escaped the Cinderella fever that has swept the nation and have rediscovered their interest in the classic Disney animated movie.  They were very excited when I downloaded the companion audio onto their Leapreader pen.  This Disney Princess book has proven very popular with both Lara and Holly.  The Early Reader series is suitable for children of around 3-6 years old.

Cinderella, The Heart that Believes tells the story of the Cinderella animated movie.  As you place the Leapreader on the words, it will read them out loud to you.  You can also read it yourself and are encouraged to sound out the words.  On some pages there are interactive games to play...on others there are lots of different pictures you can point at to hear conversation, sounds and music to accompany the pictures.

Holly is very taken with her first Leapreader book and has enjoyed exploring her way through it; it reminds me very much of seeing Lara, shortly before she started school, experiencing the joy of the understanding.  I'm hoping that this is just the beginning of Holly's Leapfrog self-reading journey.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Goodbye Cotbed Sheets, Hello Duvet Covers

I think that time has come.  Holly is too big for her cotbed and so we need to start thinking about re-arranging the girl's bedroom so that it can accommodate two full sized single beds.  I can't believe how quickly this has come around.  It feels like just yesterday that we were preparing Lara to move out of her cotbed into a single bed, so that we could use the cot for her baby sister!

Holly has been using the cotbed with a junior duvet and bedding set for some time now.  She has a couple of brightly coloured themed duvet covers which she has loved to pieces but which don't really match with the rest of the room's decor.  We felt it was time for Holly to move away from branded characters to something befitting a great big grown up girl that she now is.

The girls share a room.  It is decorated from top to bottom in a gentle purple colour, something we inherited but has actually worked quite well!  Along the walls we have the girls' name plaques and a couple of simple decorations to break up the plain walls.

This beautiful pink owl duvet cover set is from Yorkshire Linen and is the perfect introduction to big girl's bedding for Holly. It is pink and girly and yet fun and grown-up.  Children's bedding doesn't always have to star television characters for it to be bold, bright and fun, does it?

We plan to put the girls into bunkbeds within the next couple of months, at which time the entire room will need to be re-arranged once again.  But for now, Holly and Lara will be sharing their big girl bedroom with a few simple decorative touches which mean that it is now no longer a bedroom for toddlers, but a bedroom for little girls with big ideas.

Monday 18 May 2015

Tackling Hayfever as a Family

I've suffered from Hayfever for around 10 years and in the past couple of months I have noticed that Lara suffers too.  It is still quite unusual to develop hayfever before around 7 years old but Lara definitely has a sensitivity to pollen and, since spring arrived and she has spent more time outside I have noticed that she has a constant sniffle and this causes her to cough... just like her Mummy.  Occasionally, Lara's eyes are also itchy which is not something I've experienced myself yet.

Hayfever is an allergy to airborne pollen, most commonly grass pollen (although I've been told mine is more likely a tree pollen).  An allergy to grass rather puts a damper on outdoor activities such as playing in the garden or having a picnic.  Thankfully, Lara isn't very aware of her hayfever yet so it hasn't really prevented her from playing but I'm now on constant lookout for any signs of it getting worse.

We very often like to eat outdoors over the summer, the girls enjoy a picnic in the garden, or out and about if we want to do a bit of exploring.  I'm starting to worry about whether, this summer, Lara will fancy a picnic so much.  Thankfully, Boots sent us one of their summer hay fever kits to help our own alfresco plans go smoothly, and symptom-free.

The girls enjoyed their first picnic of the year yesterday with salads, rolls, pasta salad, crisps and fruit to enjoy. Lara and I both made use of the Boots Allergy Barrier Nasal Spray which is a really tiny spray that you barely feel when you apply it in your nostrils. The spray is suitable for children from 18 months under adult supervision and just one tiny pump almost instantly opened up my airwaves; the spray acts as a barrier against allergens which enter through the nose so puts up a bit of a fight against pollen. Boots Allergy Barrier Nasal Spray can also be used by breastfeeding women which is a great benefit; I know from experience that it can be very frustrating when you aren't able to take your normal hayfever medication!

Lara and Holly enjoyed their first picnic of the summer and Lara managed to get away without a sniffly nose.  I wish I could say the same for me.  Despite using the barrier spray (which I felt gave me relief at the time), by the end of the day I was coughing and sniffly with tired eyes. Boots Allergy Relief Eye Drops are suitable for use by both adults and children and they offer relief at the end of the day with itchy, sore eyes.  I don't mind applying eye drops to myself but I don't think it would be much fun trying to apply them to Lara!

The biggest relief I found in my Boots hayfever kit was the Boots Irritated Eyes Eye Mist.  The eye mist can be applied with contact lenses and over eye make-up as it is non-oily.  I found it to be a cooling, gentle spray which relaxes the eye lids and made the evening recovery noticeably faster.  I'm definitely packing this one to take with me on holiday next week.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Planning a Minion Party

Having just recovered from Holly's third birthday we are now in full-swing with the planning for Lara's sixth birthday party.  This year we are have hired a local village hall for Lara's party as we think that age 6 may be the first and last time that Lara is interested in entertaining an entire room full of children for her celebration.  Choosing a theme has been...interesting.  At one point, Lara wanted a party with a Frozen theme and the next minute she wanted a Moshi Monsters AND Spiderman theme.

We haven't quite settled on a theme for Lara's party (although invites have already gone out) but our current thinking is that we will probably aim for a Despicable Me, Minion party which is a theme suitable for both girls and boys and which offers a whole range of exciting ideas for party bags and decorations.

First up is table decorations and you can't beat this Minions tableware party pack from Dazzle which includes a tablecloth, paper cups, paper plates and napkins.  If the set isn't big enough to cater for all your party guests, the Dazzle website has a handy feature which recommends top-up items such as extra cups, or similarly-coloured party bags.

In our plans for a Minion themed birthday party we have considered the following:

  • A bright yellow Minion birthday cake
  • Plain yellow party bags with printed minion eyes (there are lots of free printable minion images online)
  • Ice-it-yourself Minion biscuits with edible googly eyes
  • Minion bananas for tea
  • Yellow minion balloons
  • Minion popcorn
I've had great fun looking online for Minion party planning ideas and I've created this Minion Party Pinterest board filled with my ideas and links to tutorials and free party printables.

For the time being, I'm working with Lara and her little sister to try and nail down the theme for their party - I think that the Minion party pack with the cups, plates and napkins will be a great inspiration for them and even if Lara changes her mind (AGAIN) they'll enjoy a special birthday meal sitting up at our table!

Friday 15 May 2015

Earth Friendly Baby Shampo, Bodywash and Body Lotion Review

Holly and Lara both still have very sensitive skin and I'm very cautious about the bathtime and skincare products that I will use on their skin.  Ever since Lara was a teeny tiny newborn baby, I've experimented with different natural and organic skincare products to ensure that we can balance the need to get clean and fresh, with the need to keep the girl's skin moist and protected from irritants.

The Earth Friendly Baby range of baby and children's cosmetics is now under the Lansinoh banner - a brand name I've know and trusted since the early stages of pregnancy.

Holly has recently started using the Earth Friendly Baby Happy Mandarin Shampoo and Bodywash, a gentle, softly scented citrus shampoo which can also be used as an all-over bodywash.  This shampoo is made from over 99% natural ingredients, of which over 50% are organically sourced.  It is free from SLS (but still seems to foam well enough on Holy's hair) and from parabens (which sometimes cause me skin complaints).

Even though Holly certainly doesn't have baby hair any more, we find this to be a very effective shampoo and I absolutely love the gentle mandarin smell.  Holly is very fussy when it somes to bodywashes but she is happy to use the Earth Friendly Baby bodywash herself - I think this is because it isn't too thick or gloppy and isn't too strong-smelling (some kids bathtime products can be a little overbearing).  I'm really pleased with the cleaning power and gentleness of this product.

After bathtime, we often like to moisturise the girl's skin as this is the most effective time if you really want to lock in moisture.  The Earth Friendly Baby Calming Lavender Body Lotion is a gentle, cooling body lotion suitable from birth.  Lavender oil is known for its soothing and healing properties so this is a great lotion for using for a pre-bedtime baby massage (something Holly does still enjoy every once in a while).

We find this lavender body lotion quite oily; this is a good thing as it is packed full of natural oils, each offering moisturising or nourishing properties.  I think this body lotion is a good baby staple for new parents - a 250ml bottle would last a REALLY long time as you only need a tiny bit to be effective.  As a little extra feel-good factor, the bottle for this body lotion is made from totally recycled materials; it is non-transparent which is great for preserving the natural oils in the lotion.

You can find Earth Friendly Baby bathtime and skincare products in Boots, Tesco, Waitrose, Ocado and online.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Run or Walk a Virtual 10k Fundraising Race With Us - #RaceForLife

As you may know, Lara and I will be taking part in a Race For Life run on the 19th July to raise vital funds for Cancer Research UK.  This month our fundraising has really taken off; here are just a few of our fundraising activities which have helped us to get half way towards our goal.
  • A mini bake sale at work where Lara and I made Pink Army cupcakes to share and left a piggy bank as a donation box
  • Handing out flyers to family members at a recent party
  • Facebook and LinkedIn shares with fabulous photos
We are also planning a friends, family and colleagues raffle with some awesome prizes and Lara is eager to make some more cakes!

As part of our fundraising efforts we are inviting you all to join us to run, walk or jog a 10 kilometre route and enter our "virtual" 10k race.

ANYONE of ANY age or fitness level can join in with our Mellow Mummy fundraising virtual 10k - the more the merrier.

How does the Virtual 10km Race Work?
A Virtual Race is one where all the entrants run in their own location at a time that suits them.  You submit your time before the end of the "race" along with some evidence of the time you did it in!  To enter the race, we ask you for a donation towards our fundraising target for Cancer Research UK.

Every single entrant to our race will get one of these bright and fun colour-splat medals engraved with the date and the challenge you completed.  There are prizes for the winner, and spot prizes up for grabs too!

Our virtual 10k fundraising event will run from the 19th June to the 19th July 2015 (the date when Lara and I join the Pink Army to complete our Race for Life).

If you would like to find out how to enter our fundraising virtual 10k then drop me an email to

Maybe you fancy joining the Pink Army this summer?  If you fancy joining in with the Race For Life challenge yourself then I have a £2 discount code off the cost of entry to any 2015 Race for Life.  Just quote RFLMel when entering the race online.  if you do join up, please leave me a comment below to let me know when and where you will be running - it'd be great to give each other support.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Netflix #StreamTeam - Family Fun

This month, the Netflix Stream Team members are exploring the diversity of the modern family.  When you think about a 'typical family' these days, it isn't necessarily a 2.4 children family that comes to mind , is it?

This month on Netflix there is a new Netflix Original series - Grace and Frankie - a comedy starring Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen (among others) in which Grace and Frankie's husbands leave them both after 20 years of marriage...for each other, leaving the ladies to form new bonds.

Netflix challenged us to explore their archives in search of more examples of fascinating, or non-traditional families.

First stop was Tracy Beaker.  Lara and Holly discovered The Story of Tracy Beaker at about Christmas, it was Lara's first foray into CBBC programming rather than CBeebies and it is great that she can now choose to watch the whole of two entire series' on-demand from Netflix.  The Tracy Beaker episodes are based on the books of Jacquline Wilson and revolve around a very feisty trouble-making member of a big household - a "family" of children and their guardians at a children's home.  Lara loves to watch the fun unfold and it gives her an insight into a lifestyle she never previously knew about.

For Holly and Lara, the somewhat under-rated Lilo & Stitch is also a different take on the concept of the Family.  Lilo is cared for by her big sister who grudingly agrees to let Lilo choose a pet... I don't think she had bargained on welcoming Stitch (the result of a scientific experiment) into their family.

But for me and Mr. B, one of our all time favourite comedy movies is Meet the Fockers which is currently available on Netflix.  None of the families in this movie can be described as "normal" - the Focker family are a couple of free spirits with a very relaxed approach to life but their son is married to a member of the Byrnes family who run a very tight ship.  When the two families come together it results in some very awkward situations. We love this movie, even more than it's predecessor, Meet the Parents.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Colour Me Cute Barbie Review

Barbie holds a certain fascination with both of my girls right now.  When Lara first started showing an interest in Barbie, a few years ago, I was worried that it would become an overly girly obsession but actually I find that when Lara and Holly are in a Barbie phase, they are their most mature, considered and thoughtful when playing.

The Barbie Colour Me Cute puppy playset has been one of the most popular additions to our playroom for many many months.  Barbie and her colourful dress and pup have been the topic of conversation at school, and the very first thing to be shown off by Lara and Holly when we have visitors.  They're obviously both very taken with this Barbie doll.

Barbie Colour Me Cute features a little puppy pamper table with a pillow and the space for a puppy bath-tub.  When the white puppy is washed with icy cold water it changes colour into a combination of garish pinks, blues and purples.  Using Barbie's handy little grooming tool you can selectively turn part of the puppy brightly coloured to make silly styles and designs!  Having watched the TV advert and followed the instructions Lara and I were a bit stumped - our puppy came coloured and we didn't know how to make it white!  I tried rubbing it with ice cubes... I even tried putting it in the freezer!  In a moment of inspiration while making myself a cup of tea I decided to try dipping the puppy into hot water and hey-presto, it turned white!  Phew.

So now I know how to reset the puppy to white so that Lara and Holly can start doodling little designed on the poor dog with the soft pamper tool!  As it is a water toy, things do tend to get a bit messy when Holly is around!

Barbie herself comes dressed in a fashionable, yet understated dress and shoes.  At first glance, the dress is fairly plain but when you apply the cool water to the bodice of the dress it reveals colourful patterns.  You can draw onto the top with water to make different designs each time - a little bit like an Aquadoodle mat!  It doesn't take very long for the top to dry so within a few minutes the girls can be creating a totally different design of outfit.

I like the simplicity of Barbie Colour Me Cute - such a small addition to a doll seems to make it stand out from the other dolls that the girls have.  The puppy grooming table looks great alongside our other Barbie playsets and it fits right in.  My only worry is how long it will be before one of the girls mislays the grooming tool - it does come with a loop to attach it to Barbie's hand but it is a very small piece - perhaps a drawer in the table would have been a good place to store it?

The Barbie Colour Me Cute puppy playset costs around £23.99 and is suitable for ages 3 upwards.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Children's Book Review :: Growl with the Animals

Growl with the Animals! is a fun board book for older toddlers which features buttons with 10 different real animal sounds.  Holly and Lara both found this book fascinating because it is factual and features noises with which they were not familiar.

Growl with the Animals! is most suited to Holly.  Each board page is easy for her to turn without destroying the book because the top of each tab features one of the two animals featured on the double-page spread so this gives her something to grab onto.

Each double-page features between one and three facts about one of the animals - the pictures are a mixture of photographs and colourful creative backgrounds to set the scene.  As you read through the page you can encourage your child to press the button that matches the animal pictures to hear the noise that they make - they can even try to copy the sound themselves!

Holly and Lara most enjoyed listening to the hyena laugh and the chirrup of the rainforest frog.  Lara is at an age where she is really interested in "facts" and she was delighted to tell me all of the things that she had learned from this book such as why rainforest frogs are brightly coloured, and what you call a toucan's vibrant beak!  As she chatters away to her little sister about the words in the book you can see that Holly is taking it all in and soaking up the knowledge too.  I loved watching my two girls read this book together and repeatedly run through all of the different animal noises.

It is good to see a sound book for small people that offers something other than the normal farm animals or very basic "jungle" animals.  My only complaint about this board book is the use of an image of an Orca to represent the sound for a page filled with whales where the next page is about dolphins...complicated.  Try explaining the complexities of the mammal kingdom to a 3 year old.

You can follow Parragon Books on Facebook, on twitter and as @parragonbooks on instagram and pinterest.

Monday 4 May 2015

The One with the Spotty Minnie Mouse Birthday Cake

Holly is three.  Three years old.  Bonkers.  Holly has lots of things that she really loves, so choosing her a theme for a birthday cake was hard but I eventually homed in on Minnie Mouse because I had a few simple pinterest-fuelled ideas that I thought would come together well.

I'm really proud of this Minnie Mouse birthday cake.  And of the accompanying cupcakes.  There were a few near-disaster moments but I think the overall effect is one of the most professional-looking cakes that I've made to date.  Holly was very proud of it and couldn't wait to get dressed into her matching outfit in time to welcome all her party guests.

Making this Minnie Mouse polka dot cake has taught me a few cake-making lessons:-
  • Cheap fondant isn't a cost saving.  I'm not yet brave enough to colour my own fondant; certainly not in such a dark colour and in such a volume.  I bought cheap pink icing.  It was rubbish.  I had to rush out and buy a complete 2kg replacement and the difference in the ease of use was astonishing.
  • Decorating a polystyrene cake dummy is harder than I thought.  It's soooo light!
  • Black icing - I've always thought it tasted evil.  Now I know it is evil.  It has a mind of its own.
  • It is always good to make spares of each of your ornaments. I made two sets of ears... one of them cracked.  I made two bows... one of them was... Holly'ed
My large pink polka dot Minnie Mouse cake is a vanilla sponge sandwiched with vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam.  It has an icing bow (very tricky!) and the ears were formed on dowling rods.

The cupcakes are a basic chocolate sponge topped with buttercream and tiny sugar pearls for polka dots.  The bows are moulded sugar (an ebay bargain) and the ears are made from giant chocolate buttons.  The cupcakes went down really well with the children as I think they all found the cake a bit daunting!

Holly had a wonderful birthday party with her cousins and she crashed out on the sofa watching Bubble Guppies after everyone had left.

Sunday 3 May 2015

What would you do?

What would you do with an extra £100. An unexpected, unplanned £100?

TSB are celebrating the first birthday of their TSB Plus Account (something that gets better with time, so they say).  The TSB Plus account could earn you annual interest of £100 AER (5% AER on up to £2000) and so they asked me to think about what I would do with an extra £100 to spend on anything I wished.

Last year, if you'd asked me then the answer would definitely have been to pay it towards #OperationPayOffTheMortgage.  In 2014, every unexpected penny we received was paid directly onto the mortgage to try and make a big dent.  It worked, we managed to reduce our mortgage into the next loan-to-value bracket which significantly reduced our monthly payments.  In 2015, although we are still making overpayments when possible, we aren't actively paying every last little penny onto it.

So this year I have a little more freedom.  Decisions, decisions.

I could spend the money on a pair of running shoes - a good pair of trainers cost around one hundred pounds.  Perhaps I could even spend it on a special running outfit to try and motivate me to get out of the house and get in some miles?

I could take Mr. B. out for dinner.  This would, of course, require us to find a babysitter...something we've not been awfully successful at recently!  Come to think of it, after the cost of a taxi and a babysitter, there wouldn't be much of the £100 left to eat and drink with!

But, as I type this I've just sat down for a rest after an epic stint putting the finishing touches to Holly's third birthday cake and cupcakes (all will be revealed tomorrow so stay tuned to the blog) and it has dawned on me what I really would spend a bonus £100 on.  Cake decorating lessons.

There is a cupcake college in Arborfield, near me, where you can learn more complex cake decorating skills and each one day course costs around £100.  I'd love to learn a few more sugarpaste skills to try and increase my confidence making birthday cakes and I think this would be a rare treat for me, rather than the girls!

If you had a spare £100, would you be able to find a treat for a bit of you-time?

It isn't just bank account interest that improve over time:

Disclosure: This post has been written in partnership with TSB.

Saturday 2 May 2015

The VAX Big Spring Clean

I actually find it quite hard to put into words the feeling I get when my house is really and truely clean.  I'm not a natural when it comes to housework (and pesky things like a full working week, running and blogging get in the way) so cleaning always seems to take me forever... which means that the big jobs get put off.  This weekend I cleaned the carpets. Something I only do about once every two years, if I'm lucky.  Now my house feels like it has a whole new lease of life - this is the refreshing, cleansing feeling that people seek when they attempt a big spring clean.

VAX understand that the mammoth job of spring cleaning the house can seem like an insurmountable mountain so they challenged me to find out whether it would become any more bearable given the right tools for the job.  Even though our cream carpets throughout the house are in massive need of replacement, I just can't justify replacing them until Holly is more reliably toilet trained, the girls are less liable to pour blackcurrant squash all over them, and the cat is less likely to bring in muddy footprints.  Right now, cleaning is the only sustainable option for me and the VAX Dual Power Reach Carpet Cleaner has come to my rescue.

The biggest challenge in our house is the living room.  This is the highest traffic room of the house and the most susceptible to to spillages. The carpet is a really low pile and has some fairly unpleasant almost-permanent stains and has born the brunt of two rounds of potty training so we do like to wash the carpet when we can.  This weekend, the living room is where I started my big spring clean.  I gave the room a really thorough hoovering before washing the carpet with the VAX Dual Power and yet you can see the disgusting blackness from the water after washing!  Ick!  Maybe I need to wash the carpets more frequently!

Washing is fairly easy with the VAX Dual Power.  Into the top unit you place warm water mixed with a carpet cleaning solution.  As you move the washer forwards over the carpet you gently squeeze the trigger with your hand to release the solution into the carpet.  As you pull the washer back it sucks the water up... all the while it is brushing the carpet to really get in among the pile.  After washing, I left the carpet for a few hours to dry before putting back all of the furniture.  The room oozes clean now.  It smells fresh (that'll be the cleaning solution) and it looks noticeably brighter.  It took me two tanks of water to get the living room clean, and about 20 minutes in total.  Now that the feeling of clean-ness is fresh in my mind, I am promising that I will do this more frequently.  In fact, I might do it again next weekend to see if a second treatment makes it even better!

For now, I'm on to the rest of the rooms in the house.  I've started doing one room every evening and it is quite astonishing the results.  Interestingly the worst room of the house is our spare bedroom which seems to sit and collect dust... however frequently we hoover, we obviously can't get it clean enough because the effects of washing the carpet show that it had really dulled without a regular wash to keep on top of things.

Having used both personal and professional carpet washers in the past, I'm really impressed by the VAX Dual Power.  It is easy to use and very effective (I'd say 90% as effective as when I've hired a carpet cleaner).  It has a great long cable which stores easily looped around the back.  I do however find that it is a little unstable both when full of warm water (before washing) and when both water tanks are absent (during cleaning) and it has been known to topple.  On the plus side, I've found the water tanks to fit much more securely into the unit than any washer I have used previously which means less drips and leaks.

The VAX Dual Power is so named because it also features a cleaning hose for long-reach jobs for instance when washing the carpet on the stairs or when cleaning upholstery.  You clip the hose into the front of the unit and can unclip it for storage in a handy hanging-bag.

The VAX Dual Power kick-started my spring clean but I'm hoping that actually it doesn't only come out once a year but becomes part of our regular cleaning schedule.  It costs around £200.

Disclosure: I was sent the VAX Dual Power Carpet Washer to perform my review but the words and opinions are my own.

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